Sunday, July 29, 2018


The Split

The history books of the Bible, including Acts, show us God’s people with all of their difficulties and flaws. It does not gloss over problems to make people look better than they are. In this passage, Luke records the split between Paul and Barnabas.

Paul wanted to return to the cities they visited on the first missionary trip. He invited Barnabas to go with him again. (36) Barnabas wanted to bring Mark with them. Paul disagreed because Mark had abandoned them at the beginning of the previous trip.

This was no small disagreement. Luke calls it a “sharp” disagreement. So, evidently, the argument escalated substantially, so much so that Barnabas left with Mark and sailed to Cyprus, Barnabas’ home country.

Paul then took Silas, one of the leading men that had come to Antioch from Jerusalem with the message from the council. He was a prophet and had stayed in Antioch a while teaching.

Paul and Silas obtained the commendation of the Antioch church. Where Barnabas had sailed to Cyprus, Paul went overland through Syria and Cilicia. He was from Tarsus in Cilicia, so he may have gone through his home town.

Although this disagreement and separation must have been painful, God used it to multiply the work, now having two teams of missionaries. Although Mark had fallen out of Paul’s favor, he later redeemed himself, by his service, even joining Paul in Rome when Paul was in prison. (Philemon 24) He joined Peter in Rome and wrote the gospel of Mark. (1 Peter 5:13) Peter referred to Mark as his son, so they must have been close and Mark must have been a co-worker for the gospel.

Meeting Timothy

Continuing north and east, Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra in Galatia, crossing the Taurus mountains through the pass know as the Cilician Gates (now the Gulek Pass). There in Lystra Paul met Timothy. Timothy was a believer. His mother was a converted Jew, likely coming to faith during Paul’s first visit there.  His father was a non-believing Greek. (1) Timothy was well thought of by the local churches. Paul wanted to take Timothy on the journey with him and Silas. Timothy agreed.

Paul circumcised Timothy so that the Jews he would encounter along the way would not be offended. This is interesting, because he later took Titus, a Greek, with him to Jerusalem and did not circumcise him.

Part of the ministry of the missionaries to these churches was to deliver the letter from James and the council in Jerusalem to the Gentiles. Silas would have been the one to do this, since he had been the emissary that brought the letter to Antioch. Luke tells us the churches were strengthened and grew in numbers daily. (5)

Into Macedonia

Paul and Silas continued northeast through what is now Turkey, passing through the provinces of Phrygia and Galatia. The area east of Galatia was then called Asia. Paul may have intended to re-visit Ephesus. The Holy Spirit, however, did not allow them to preach in Asia. Luke does not tell us how the Holy Spirit did that. But, God clearly had somewhere else he wanted them to go and preach.

Paul kept moving and tried to go north into Bithynia, but again the Spirit did not allow them. So, they went east to the coastal city of Troas. While at Troas, Paul had a vision of a man urging him to come to Macedonia and help. Paul took the vision as being from the Lord, so he immediately took his group to Macedonia, sailing across a short stretch of water between what is now Turkey to what is now Greece. That body of water is called the Aegean Sea.

Interestingly, for the first time, Luke used the word “we” in saying that the group went to Macedonia. So, the group now consists of at least Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. Luke may have lived in Troas, or was there waiting to take a ship to Macedonia.

The journey to Macedonia is also significant because it is the first venture into Europe from Asia and the Middle East. The gospel begins to expand to a whole new area.

The First Converts in Europe

Paul headed to Philippi, a major Roman city in Macedonia. For the first time on his journeys, Paul could not find a Jewish synagogue to visit. That likely means there were few, if any, Jews in the city. If 10 Jewish men lived there, they could build a synagogue.

On the Sabbath, he went out of the city to the river Gangites. He thought it might be a place of prayer. Indeed he found a group of women meeting there. One was named Lydia. She was from the Asian city of Thyatira, south of Troas. Thyatira was located in what was once the kingdom of Lydia. She may have been named after that kingdom, as the Lydian woman. Thyatira is also one of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation.

Luke described her as a “worshiper of God”. This indicates she was probably not Jewish, but a Gentile “God fearer”. Paul shared the gospel with her. The Lord opened her heart and she believed. (15) She was the first convert in Europe.

Since Lydia believed, she was baptized, evidently in the river, as was all of her household. Lydia then demonstrated Christian hospitality, urging Paul and his companions to come and stay at her house while they were in Philippi.

Trouble Arose

The next time Paul and his companions went to the place of prayer by the river, they encountered a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. The Romans believed a god could give a person special knowledge. Her owners used her skills to make a lot of money. The passage shows she got her knowledge from an evil spirit, or demon. Paul was able to discern that.

The girl identified Paul and Silas as servants of the Most High God who proclaim the way of salvation. That, of course, was true. (17) She kept this up for days, drawing unwanted attention to Paul and suggesting a connection between her and Paul. Luke said Paul was “greatly annoyed”. (18) Paul commanded the spirit, in the name of Jesus, to leave the girl and the spirit did.

The problem with that was, the girl’s owners could no longer make money off of her divination. They grabbed Paul and Silas and took them to the city rulers. (20) They complained that the men were Jews, were disturbing the city, and advocation things the Romans were not allowed to practice. (22) None of these allegations were true, but they stirred up the crowd. The rulers tore the clothes off of Paul and Silas, had them beaten, and thrown into prison. They even put their feet in stocks. You can imagine how uncomfortable they were, sore and bleeding from the beating, sitting on a cold floor in a dungeon, with their legs extended and their feet in wooden stocks.

Even though Paul was a Roman citizen, he was not given the right to a hearing or to defend himself. The city rulers were more interested in keeping the peace. He would later write that he was shamefully treated. (1 Thessalonians 2:2)

The Jailer

In all of this, God was working. Paul and Silas sat in jail singing hymns and praying. (25) God sent an earthquake that shook the prison, opened all the cell doors, and unfastened the stocks. (26)

The jailer saw this and prepared to kill himself, thinking he had soiled his honor by failing in his duty to keep the prisoners. But Paul reassured him that no one  had left.

The jailer saw the earthquake and the failure of the prisoners to leave as supernatural events, or acts of God. He was afraid. He may have heard the declarations of the slave girl, because he went to Paul and Silas and asked “what must I do to be saved?”.

Paul shared the gospel with the jailer, and all who were in his house, saying “believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with your household. (31) He believed, as did his whole family, and they were baptized. He also practiced Christian hospitality, taking Paul and Silas into his home and feeding them.

The Magistrates Change Course

In the morning, the magistrates ordered the release of Paul and Silas. Paul, however, asserted his Roman citizenship and pointed out that they could not treat them wrongfully in public and let them go in private. The magistrates were afraid because they had mistreated a citizen. They came and apologized and asked them to leave the city. They could not legally force them to leave the city sine they were Roman citizens.

Paul did leave, but not before going to visit Lydia and encouraging the new believers. (40)

The Holy Spirit directed the missionary activities, sending the missionaries to certain places and keeping them from other places. He opened the hearts of those Paul spoke to so that they believed the gospel and were saved. He let the missionaries suffer at times in order to place them where he wanted them, even in jail. Jesus continued to build his church as he said he would.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Acts 15
The Jerusalem Council

The success of the first missionary journey resulted in many Gentiles believing and coming into the church. In addition, God had brought many Gentiles into the church in Antioch. Word of this made its way to Jerusalem. The first great theological controversy arose from it.

The Theological Dispute

Men from the Jerusalem church, or at least from Judea, showed up in Antioch. They taught that the Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved. They meant that the Gentile had to become circumcised and follow the Jewish law in order to be a Christian. They taught a faith plus works salvation.

Paul and Barnabas debated them. Given what we know Paul later wrote about the issue, we can assume the debate was intense. The Antioch church appointed a group, including Paul and Barnabas, to go to Jerusalem and put the matter before the apostles and elders there.

This shows us the apostles, as those who were taught by Jesus, are still the authority, but the elders have risen to a place of respect and authority also.

The Joyful News

Paul and Barnabas did not waste any time. Even on the way to Jerusalem to face this dispute, they stopped along the way, telling of the conversion of the Gentiles on their missionary trip. The news brought great joy to the “brothers”, or believers. Despite the existence of a few who brought the dispute, it appears that most were thrilled to hear of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ. This was true in Jerusalem also, as they were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders, as they told them of all God had done.

The Issue Stated

Despite all this good news and joyful reception, some were there to argue. These were believers who were Pharisees. The Pharisees were the Jewish party which taught strict adherence to the law. Their point was this: that the Gentiles must be circumcised and taught that they must keep the law of Moses.

In effect, the Pharisees claimed that the Gentile Christians must become observant Jews to be saved, in addition to believing in Jesus. Circumcision was the sign of belonging to the Old Covenant nation of Israel. Then they would be expected to obey all of the Old Testament ceremonial and dietary laws.

The Meeting of the Council

The apostles and elders considered the question. There was much debate. Peter then stood to speak. Somehow you would just expect him to be the apostle that spoke.

Peter pointed out that he was the apostle God chose to witness to the Gentiles. That gave him some extra weight in the discussion. Peter testified that God knew the heart of those Gentiles and gave them the Holy Spirit just as he had given the Jewish believers at Pentecost. Peter was speaking of his encounter with Cornelius and his household in Acts 10.

God knew the hearts of those Gentiles and so knew that they had come to faith in Christ. God confirmed their conversion by giving them the Holy Spirit. He emphasized that God cleansed their hearts through their faith just as he had done to the Jewish believers. If they were saved by faith, not works, why would they want to place the yoke of the law on the Gentiles, since the Jews historically had not even been able to bear it. (10)

At first glance, this last part seems practical rather than theological. But Peter was likely trying to say to the Pharisees that they were wrapping themselves in the law as though Israel had always faithfully kept it and needed no deliverance for it, when, in reality, they had constantly failed to keep it and had often been punished for it.

Peter’s words were effective enough to silence the debate. The church again listened to Paul and Barnabas tell of the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles. (12)

The conclusion of the Council was brought by James, the brother of Jesus. He is obviously an elder and, apparently, the leader of the Jerusalem church. We can see his authority by the fact that spoke last and gave his “judgment’ on the matter.

James gave his answer according to events and to Scripture. First, he said that Peter, using his Hebrew name of Simeon, had shown by the vision God gave him and by his experience with the Gentiles’ conversion, that God was taking a people for his name from among the Gentiles.
James’ use of “a people for his name” has Old Testament roots. The Jews considered themselves the people taken for God’s name”. God referred to them as the people called by his name in 2 Chronicles 7:14. But God always intended to add the Gentiles to that people called by his name. Israel, true Israel, is composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

James quoted Amos 9:11-15 as proof, saying “the words of the prophets agree”. James was saying that God’s promise to rebuild and restore Israel is fulfilled in the coming of the Gentiles into the church through faith in Christ. They are the “remnant of mankind” who seek the Lord and are called by his name.

Notice that experience outside of Scripture did not win the day. It was experience in agreement with Scripture, even foretold by it.

James’ conclusion was that they would not trouble the Gentile believers by ordering them to obey the law. However, he also wisely thought they should instruct them to avoid behaviors that would offend the Jewish believers, for there were Jews in every city. They should not eat food offered to idols or from animals that were strangled, and should not eat blood. They should also avoid sexual immorality. The food related instructions were from the ceremonial law which was no longer in effect, but still observed by many Jewish believers. James was asking the Gentiles to respect that. The call to avoid sexual immorality was part of the moral law, which is eternal. The Gentiles, from Greek culture, would have likely had a greater tolerance for sexual immorality and needed the reminder.

The Letter
Acts 15:22-35

The church, led by the apostles and elders, wrote a letter about these things and sent it to Antioch with men from the Jerusalem church, including Judas Barsabbas and Silas. They are described as leading men, likely respected elders. They accompanied Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch to deliver the letter. The personal delivery was both a gesture of good will to the sister church and a guarantee that the letter was genuine. A further gesture of good will was the reference to “our beloved Barnabas and Paul”. (26)

The letter stated that the circumcision advocates had not been sent by the Jerusalem church, but had come on their own. (24) The letter gave the same instructions that James had advised.
The church in Antioch rejoiced at the encouragement of the letter. (31)

As an additional benefit, Judas and Silas, who were prophets, stayed a while and taught the church. (32) The church then sent them off “in peace”, showing the two churches were in harmony with each other. Barnabas and Paul stayed in Antioch. They continued to preach, along with many others. (35)

The first great heresy of the church was defeated by Scripture. The first attack on the fellowship of the believers was defeated by love of others, a love for Jesus, and a love for those who followed Jesus. The fellowship was not preserved by accommodating error or heresy, but in a love for the truth that held them together in opposition to error.

Sunday, July 08, 2018



Paul and Barnabas left Pisidian Antioch and went to Iconium. Iconic was about 90 miles southeast of Pisidian Antioch. It had been a Roman city since about 25 B.C.

Paul and Barnabas continued the pattern of their ministry at Iconium, in southern Galatia. They first went to the synagogue and preached. A large number of people believed, both Jew and Gentile. But, the unbelieving Jews stirred up opposition again.

The missionaries stayed a long time and spoke boldly despite the opposition. God gave them signs and wonders to perform to verify the truth of their message. Paul referred to this in his letter to the Galatians as miracles worked among them. (Galatians 3:5) But, as the opposition intensified, they became aware of a plot to stone them, so they left the city. They went to Lystra and Derbe and the countryside around those cities, preaching the gospel.


At Lystra, Paul interrupted his preaching to heal a lame man. The crowd got excited, but not to believe the gospel. Instead, they claimed Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes, Greek gods who had come down to them. A priest of Zeus even tried to offer animal sacrifices to them. (13) It took Paul and Barnabas a while to figure out what was going on because the people did not speak in Greek or Latin, but in the Lycaonian language. (11)

When they did understand, Paul and Barnabas were horrified. They showed this by tearing their garments. They told the crowd they were only men preaching the gospel to them, asking them to believe in the living God who created the earth. Notice that they could not preach to these people from the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, for these people were pagans with no knowledge of Jewish scripture. The missionaries managed to prevent the sacrifices, but barely. (18)

Also at Lystra, their Jewish enemies caught up with them. They stoned Paul and left him for dead. (Paul referred to this in 2 Corinthians 11:25.) But Paul got up and went back into the city. God must have miraculously healed him. The next day, he and Barnabas went on to Derbe and preached the gospel. Many believed and were saved.

The missionaries then retraced their steps to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, teaching the disciples they had made, and warning them of persecution to come. This was a courageous action, given how they had been driven from those cities. They appointed elders to lead the congregations.

Return to Antioch

Continuing to retrace their steps, the missionaries left Pisidian Antioch and went to the province of Pamphylia, preaching in the city of Perga, where they had landed on the way from Cyprus. From there, they went down to Attalia, the main seaport of Pamphylia. From this port, the missionaries sailed back to Antioch and the church that commissioned them as missionaries.

The missionaries met with their church and reported all that God had done, especially in opening the door to evangelizing the Gentiles. They stayed there for a considerable time.

This trip was revolutionary. It was the first church supported mission. It brought the gospel to Asia for the first time. It also changed the ethnic balance of the church. There were now many more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians. The news of this reached all the way to Jerusalem, setting up future conflicts and the famous council.

Sunday, July 01, 2018


At Antioch

The story of the first missionary journey begins in the church at Antioch (Northern Syria).

That is appropriate since it was a church founded by missionaries. Chapter 11 told us that Jewish Christians in Jerusalem fled persecution. Some came to Antioch, in northern Syria. At first they witnessed only to other Jews, but then they began to speak to the Greeks.

A church formed from these new believers. The apostles sent Barnabas to check on them. Barnabas went to Tarsus, found Saul, and brought him to Antioch to help teach. Chapter 13 picks up the story.

The Lord gave both prophets and teachers to the church in Antioch. Luke named 5: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manean, and Saul. They were a diverse group: Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus, Simeon from Africa, Lucius, a Roman from northern Libya, Manaen, a friend and member of the court of Herod Antipas, who killed John the Baptist. “Manaen” is a Greek form of the Hebrew name “Menahem”. Lastly, Saul, a former Pharisee from Tarsus in Cilicia, in the southern part of what is now Turkey.

While the church was gathered to worship, the Holy Spirit told them to set Barnabas and Saul apart for work the Holy Spirit had called them to. Since Luke mentioned prophets in the church, that word may well have come from one of them. The church responded by fasting, praying, and laying hands on the men before sending them out.

So, Barnabas and Saul sailed for Cyprus. (4) They took John Mark with them. (5) Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. He may have been a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. As such, he could assist them by testifying to the truth of the story. The word for “assistant” is the same word used in Luke 1:2 for “ministers” of the word.

Barnabas was from Cyprus, so that may be how they decided to start there. Plus, Barnabas was not only a Jew, he was a Levite. (4:36) That would have given him some standing in the synagogues there.

They started at Salamis, the port city on the eastern shore of the island, and the closest point to Antioch. They worked their way across the island, preaching in the synagogues in each town, until they came to Paphos, the port city on the western end of the island. It was also the seat of the Roman government on the island.  (6)

Witnessing to the Proconsul

At Paphos, the missionaries encountered the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, and Bar-Jesus, a Jewish false prophet and magician. Sergius summoned Barnabas and Saul to come and talk to him, to speak the word of God. (7)

But the magician, also called Elymas, opposed them and tried to keep Sergius from the faith. Paul called him “son of the devil”. From this, we can surmise that the magician’s power was demonic. But Saul stood up to him. He was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and struck him blind.

Here we also see that, for the first time, Saul’s Roman name is mentioned. He was also called Paul. (9) Maybe it is mentioned here because they are in the Roman capital of the island and it is the same name as the proconsul. Both Paul and the proconsul would have spelled it Paullus in Latin.

Striking the man blind not only rendered him powerless, it was a powerful sign of the truth of the gospel. The miracle, plus the teaching, brought the proconsul to believe.

Witnessing in Pisidia

After this, Luke begins to place Paul in the primary position of the missionaries. He spoke of “Paul and his companions” sailing to Perga in Pamphylia. This is again in what is now southern Turkey. It had been part of the Hittite kingdom, but at the time of Paul’s visit, was a Greek city.

The only event Luke noted there was that John Mark left the mission there and returned to Jerusalem. We do not know why, but we find out later that Paul took it badly. Paul went inland to Antioch in Pisidia, crossing a mountain range. This was a Roman city at the time of Paul. It was in the province of Galatia. The ruins of the city are still visible today.

The missionaries went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. In addition to the Jews, there were “God fearers”, Gentiles who believed but were not circumcised. After the Scripture reading, the rulers of the synagogue invited the visitors to speak. So, Paul did. He gave them an Old Testament history lesson, much as Stephen did before his execution.

The Old testament lesson began with God choosing Israel, growing them in Egypt and leading them out to the wilderness and then to Canaan. (16-18) Notice it says God “put up with them”.

Then, the story moves to Canaan with God destroying the Canaanites and giving the land to Israel. (19) The seven nations are listed in Deuteronomy 7:1. Paul spoke of the judges that lasted until Samuel, then the first king, Saul. Last, Paul said God raised up David to be their king, a man after God’s heart. (22)

From there, Paul made the leap to Jesus, saying that God brought a Savior from David’s line as he promised, and this savior is Jesus. It was important to show Jesus’ descent from David, just as Peter had done in his sermons, because the Jews knew from scripture that the Messiah would come from David’s line. (Psalm 89:19-29) You can imagine the congregation sitting up and paying close attention at this point.

Paul spoke of John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus(24) and affirming that John was not the Messiah.

Then Paul bore down. He said God sent them a message of salvation. The Jews in Jerusalem did not recognize Jesus, or understand the scripture, and had him executed. (28)  But God raised him and he appeared to many witnesses. This is similar to Peter’s theme, except Peter could say he was such a witness.

Paul said God’s promise of salvation was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. (32) He went to the Psalms. First, he quoted Psalm 2:7, where God declared Jesus to be his Son. He went on to say Psalm 16 was fulfilled in that Jesus, the Messiah, was not allowed to see corruption. Jesus was not left in the grave, but raised so that he could indeed fulfill the promise of an eternal king from the line of David.

The Application

Paul finished his sermon with a direct application to his audience. Forgiveness for sins was proclaimed, complete forgiveness for sins. He told them they could, through faith in Christ, be completely justified, something the law of Moses could not do.

Paul also gave them a warning. He appealed to the prophet Habakkuk, who warned of the rise of the rise of the Babylonians and the impending invasion. He meant, do not be like those who heard the words of the prophet, but did not believe them, and were destroyed. Applied to them, it meant, do not ignore my words and suffer eternal damnation. That word is for us today. You ignore the gospel at your peril.

The Response

After hearing Paul’s sermon, the people begged for more on the next Sabbath. They followed Paul and Barnabas around, and talked with them more. The word spread around town and, on the next Sabbath, almost the whole city came to hear Paul preach again.  

The Holy Spirit sent the missionaries, inspired the preaching, and brought people to hear and believe the gospel. He does the same today.